To the amazement of many Jewish people, we live in an era in history, an era comparable to the Roman period, when a fairly large contingent of non-Jews desire to follow Jewish customs.
In the Roman period Jewish communities thrived in such diaspora locations as Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt. As Alexandria was one of the top few cities in the entire Roman empire and as about half the city was Jewish, it was especially there that interaction between Jews and non-Jews spread out.
Philo of Alexandria wrote about the many non-Jewish attenders of the synagogues there and about their practice. Josephus described the same phenomenon. Juvenal, the Roman satirist, poked fun at these monotheistic, Sabbath-keeping Romans. He felt they were in danger of losing their status and identity as Romans. The New Testament and later rabbinic literature use the term God-fearer for this rather large class of individuals.
It should be noted that God-fearers, were something like attenders only or associate members of the synagogues of their time. They did not become officers in the synagogue. They did not teach or hold positions of authority. Many of them were major donors for synagogue buildings, however. To read more, see Louis Feldman’s Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World.
Now, in our era, we have a variety of non-Jewish people in diverse movements keeping to differing degrees the commandments of the biblical Torah and customs of Judaism.
Are there lines inappropriate to cross? Are there Jewish customs which are inappropriate for non-Jews to practice?
Important caveat: we are discussing these matters. This is not about me, Derek Leman, laying down a ruling (as if anyone would follow any ruling I laid down anyway).
Fringes (Tzit-Tzit, Tallit, Prayer Shawl)
Interestingly the commandment that Israelites wear fringes is very specifically a commandment for Jewish observance. The passage in question is Numbers 15:37-41.
(1) It is to “the Israelite people.” Now, many people make the following assumption: a) the only people of God then were Israelites, b) the command is actually for all people of God but uses the only language available at the time, and c) it was not the intention of the Bible to limit this command to Israelites. But there are more considerations.
(2) The fringes or tassels are there to remind the people to keep all of God’s commandments and not to stray from them. Which commandments are referenced here? This must mean the commandments directed to Israel, given at Sinai to Israel, and some of which apply only to Israel (circumcision, Sabbath, dietary law, statutes in the land, etc.).
(3) The section is concluded with a statement of God’s relationship to Israel: “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God.” Did God bring the people of the nations of the world out of Egypt? (Someone will bring up the mixed multitude, no doubt, but note that God never makes the relational statements about the mixed multitude he does of Israel.)
There is a good biblical case to be made that the wearing of fringes (tallit, tzit-tzit, tallit katan, prayer shawl) is a sign of Israel’s relationship to God. This is also the Jewish tradition.
When a non-Jew visits a mainstream synagogue, the men will likely be loaned a kippah (skullcap), but never a tallit (unless the non-Jew wishes it to be assumed they are Jewish and does not inform the ushers).
In Messianic Judaism, it has been a long-standing custom that all the men wear a tallit in service. Is this justified? If it is not, how can we work toward a practice that differentiates?
Keep in mind what I wrote in the previous parts of this series. We have non-Jewish members with a variety of reasons for being in a Messianic synagogue. The universal wearing of tallit is perhaps the greatest symbol of our identity confusion. We have been encouraging non-Jews to dress as Jews in worship for so long people have become accustomed to this. Should we change it?
The Kippah (yarmulke, skullcap)
If the tallit is an example of a biblical commandment which has been appropriated in Messianic Judaism as a universal pattern, the kippah is the converse.
Covering the head (which most commonly involves the use of a skullcap) is a tradition, purely without biblical force. Yes, it derives from the biblical requirement of the priests in Exodus 28:40-42 (ordinary priests wore four garments: tunic, sash, turban, and breeches of linen). The logic of the head-covering tradition is simple: a) the priests were required to cover their head in the sanctuary since God was present, b) God is present everywhere, c) by covering the head at least during worship and study we are honoring God’s presence.
So, the kippah is a sign of respect for God’s presence. It is not something limited to Israelite observance.
Ironically, some people decline to wear a head-covering (“that’s not in the Bible”) but do wear a tallit (“it’s in the Bible”).
So the head-covering practice is something everyone (women have their own customs in this area with some diversity) could do in synagogue to honor God’s presence. And many do while some others refrain, giving as their reason that they only want to be biblical (but there is no such thing as following God only following biblical injunctions since God does not specify how to keep his injunctions to the level of detail).
Other Issues of Identity, Custom, and Practice
I will not attempt a complete list of observances about which we might ask if non-Jews should participate. I would be writing a 10,000 word blog post at a minimum. I will just briefly raise a few more:
–Circumcision on the eighth day and the celebration of Brit Milah as a party with friends and family. If you are a non-Jew and you do not plan to convert, why would you observe this command? Note: I am not talking about hygienic circumcision in the hospital soon following birth. In case the Chumash (five books of Torah) is not clear enough, the New Testament is very clear this is for Jews only.
–Reciting blessings which indicate membership in the Jewish people. For example, the Torah blessing says “who selected us from all peoples and gave us his Torah.” Can or should a non-Jew say this? The intention of the language is to talk about Israel’s corporate election (“God selected us as the Israelite people from all the other peoples”), but many people might read it individualistically (“God selected us individuals from all the peoples”). Why would a non-Jew recite a blessing before God indicating membership in the Israelite people when that is not the case? Some are proposing that in Messianic synagogues non-Jews not make aliyahs. Others are proposing that we have a variant blessing for non-Jews if they make an aliyah. What are your thoughts?
–Bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. Should we have a variant wording for non-Jews? Some have suggested Bar Avraham and Bat Avraham (terminology clearly used of non-Jews in the New Testament), but others object because Bar Avraham is a name given to a convert.
The Main Thing
For those non-Jews who are considering Jewish practice and for those non-Jews who already are living according to Jewish practice, is there an openness to discussing some differentiation in the future?
Would it be terrible if there were some differences (non-Jews refraining from wearing tallit, saying alternate blessings in some cases, etc.)?
Why is this so important? And, second, why must we be careful in proceeding?
The issue of Jewish identity and Messianic synagogues is important because when non-Jews assume Jewish identity, something precious to God is suppressed and even denied: that the people of Israel are the elect people whose role in world redemption did not cease at the coming of Messiah.
And proceeding with changes needs to go slowly because we owe it to people whom we have incorporated and authorized to assume Jewish practices not to dismiss their desires to continue and their fondness for the forms to which they are accustomed.
I liked your post very much, Derek. I totally agree with your thoughts and your conclusion. I know there are some boundaries which must be placed slowly, in order to not offend people involved on this, but I believe there are boundaries. When Paul says in Christ there are no Jew or Gentile, man or woman, he`s talking about the value, the level of importance of them. But in Mashiach it continued to exist Jew and Gentile, in the same way as man and woman… Congratulation for your job.
Having read most of Kinzer’s book, Post Missionary Messianic Judaism, I have given a lot of thought to this issue. Like you, I feel that the wearing of a tallit is the greatest visible area of distinction that can be made between Jews and non-Jews. However, I would take a different approach in arriving at the same conclusion, but space is not sufficient to explain.
On the practical side, two possibilities come to mind. The first is that non-Jews could simply stop wearing them. That would satisfy the desire of UMJC leadership, and perhaps many Jews both inside and outside the Messianic community. The downside is that non-Jews would likely feel left out, possibly hurt, viewing themselves as second class citizens. The second approach would allow non-Jews to continue wearing the tallit but would change it to make it distinctively non-Jewish. Perhaps it could be a different color, a different size, a different shape, contain a different pattern, or some combination of these. The same could perhaps be done with the kippah. You would most likely have the same issues (hurt feelings, etc.) among non-Jewish men, but hopefully to a lesser extent.
The idea that seems to be lost in this regard, in my opinion, is that non-Jews need to excel in their identity as non-Jews called alongside their Jewish counterparts as disciples of the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth. They should not be discouraged from keeping the Torah or pushed away as if they are not wanted. They simply need to be taught that their keeping of all the Torah in the same way that Jews keep it blurs the lines of distinction between Jew and Gentile. In Kinzer’s view, as well as yours and others, this blurring leads to a loss of Jewish identity among Jews, resulting in assimilation. I’m not sure I agree with that conclusion, but he certainly makes a compelling case for it.
On the issue of blessings, I’m not sure I would advocate change anytime soon. Your argument for bringing up this issue, I presume, is because many of the prayers are exclusively Jewish. For example, the Aleinu mentions that “He has not made us like the nations of the lands.” The morning blessings call for men to thank God “for not having made me a Gentile.” The blessing over the Torah contains the words, “Who chose us from among all people and gave us the Torah.” While these three blessings are probably the ones for which the voices advocating change are the loudest, my concern is over the implications that such changes would bring.
For example, the Sh’ma mentions the wearing of teffilin, a practice that many would argue is exclusively Jewish. The second part of the Sh’ma mentions “your land,” and the third part of the Sh’ma mentions the wearing of tzit-tzit. Should non-Jews therefore not say the Sh’ma? The Sabbath Amidah mentions the Sabbath as being “an eternal covenant between Me and the children of Israel.” Should non-Jews therefore skip over this blessing? If so, what would be the point in non-Jews saying the Sabbath Amidah at all? The 10th blessing of the daily Amidah asks that Hashem “gather us from the four corners of the earth.” The second blessing of the Grace After Meals thanks God for the “land.” I could go on with more examples, but you get the idea. My point is that if you start asking non-Jews to say alternate blessings, where does it end?
Let’s say that we come up with alternative blessings for non-Jews. Think of how that might affect the corporate worship of the local congregation. How would you conduct the Chazzan’s repetition of the Sabbath Amidah when you came to the blessing for the Sabbath day. How about the Aleinu, a favorite among congregants? Would it no longer be recited or would Jews only be able to recite it?
You raise some valid questions for which I see no easy answers. For now, the most logical place for change seems to be in the areas that are most visible – the wearing of the tallit and kippah. Keep in mind that whatever changes are eventually implemented, they won’t happen overnight. Furthermore, they will certainly require a lot of teaching, patience, tolerance, gentle correction, sensitivity, and love. Failure to do this correctly will result in many either leaving the community or seeking to convert.
That’s my .02 worth.
David, I agre – I don’t think that there’s a need to change liturgy. Gentile believers who are guests (or even those who made it their home) in the Jewish congregation already know (or should know) where they are and what the place is about.
I have no problem with Gentiles reading the same prayers along with Jews in a general synagogue service (not aliyahs), if for no other reason but that to try to adjust the prayers will break the flow of service and deviate from centuries of tradition. What do Gentile visitors to mainstream synagogues do today – they simply pray along with everyone else, no one is asking them to say or not say a specific prayer. Synagogue prayer (for the most part) is corporate – it doesn’t have to be always about a specific individual. A Gentile can derive the same spiritual blessing of reading a prayer addressed from Israel to G-d in the same way he or she can read psalms of David (David’s prayer directed from him to G-d). One does not have to pretend that he or she is “David” to be blessed by the prayer (or rather, bless G-d with it).
>> Ironically, some people decline to wear a head-covering (“that’s not in the Bible”) but do wear a tallit (“it’s in the Bible”).
Notice that a Torah commandment limited to a certain ethnic group — Levites wearing turbans — has been adopted by all Israel in the form of yarmulkes.
In this same vein, and in light of Messiah making gentiles members of the commonwealth of Israel, gentiles wearing fringes to remind them of God’s commandments is perfectly acceptable.
We all acknowledge the Torah was given to Israel, and in some cases, was given to specific groups within Israel. Nonetheless, we recognize the goodness in these commandments, and try to apply them to ourselves as a form of honoring God. This shouldn’t be discouraged, as if often done on this blog, but rather ought to be encouraged.
Now, a side issue: I’m utterly thankful to be in a congregation where Jews and gentiles worship together without all this eggshell walking! (“Ooh, careful, don’t keep too much Torah or you’ll suppress the unique Jewish role!” WTH?)
I’ve never seen a One Law congregation that suppresses the idea that Jewish people have a special, unique role in God’s plan. I think you’re totally inventing that myth, Derek, sorry, it’s just not reality. And I say this as someone who’s been a son-of-the-commandments since a child, who’s grown up in the Messianic movement and has attended congregations of all flavors in 4 different US states, and has run a Messianic blog with diverse readers for 7 years — I think I’m qualified to say this: you’re painting a terrible picture of good One Law folks, and you’re doing so with a broad brush, my friend.
“In this same vein, and in light of Messiah making gentiles members of the commonwealth of Israel, gentiles wearing fringes to remind them of God’s commandments is perfectly acceptable.”
The problem is that Gentiles are NOT Israel. Being part of the Commonwealth of countries which Israel will lead does not make a person living is those countries an Israelite (nor does the Bible ever refer to Gentiles as Israelites, spiritual or otherwise), no matter what One-Law advocates may claim. Egypt in the Kingdom (Isaiah 19:25) is still Egypt (not Israel).
“I’m utterly thankful to be in a congregation where Jews and gentiles worship together without all this eggshell walking!”
Judah, I’ve never been in your congregation, but I am going to take a leap of faith and seriously doubt you have ANY Jews in it (I am not talking about wannabes and those with very creative genealogies).
“I’ve never seen a One Law congregation that suppresses the idea that Jewish people have a special, unique role in God’s plan.”
Strange… sometimes one can’t see the forest for the trees, I suppose.
Ah, see that’s our difference right there. When Paul says gentiles are “citizens in the commonwealth of Israel”, you think that means it doesn’t change their status in Israel. I do.
Oh, and yes, there are Jews in our congregation, Gene.
I understand the sensitivities and financial ramifications of taking drastic measures to clear up the prevailing identity confusion in Messianic Jewish congregations, but I believe that such measures need to be taken sooner than later – especially for the sake of the next generation. One would hope that those non-Jews who are truly committed to supporting what G-d is doing among the Jewish people today, those who really love our people and seek out their interests, would understand and not take issue. Taking such action would also make a clear delineation between the motives of various folks in the “movement” – who will stay with the Jews, and who will get offended and go?
Prohibiting non-Jews from making an aliyah raises another question. Should they be counted in the minyan? On the one hand, how can they be counted in the minyan if they are not allowed to participate fully? On the other hand, what message does that send to them if they are left out of the minyan? My position is that they should be both counted in the minyan and allowed to make an aliyah. However, to make a distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers, perhaps the manner in which they are called up or the blessing recited is different. Perhaps also this part of the service could be modified to include an aliyah for the non-Jewish disciple, just like the service contains aliyot for a cohen, a levite, and several Israelites. Such a practice would recognize that the calling is to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
David, a Minyan (in Jewish understanding) is a group of ten Jews (traditionally men). If there are less than than ten Jews a limited service can still be conducted, but with certain prayers and rituals omitted. I do not see a reason to change this established universal Jewish law in a Jewish communities for the sake of guests (however honored and welcomed they are) to that community. If there are not enough Jews to make a minyan in a synagogue, than it’s NOT a Jewish synagogue or a Jewish minyan (which means counting Gentiles in a minyan is the least of its problems).
The same goes for aliyahs to Torah. Why would a Gentile believer need to go to Torah if they have not been given Torah as inheritance – why CHANGE the established Jewish tradition and halachka that on a weekday a Cohen, a Levy and an Israelite get one aliyah each, and 7 aliyahs on Shabbos?
I’m not sure we’re on the same page. If you are referring to the occasional visitor, then I agree with your position. However, I’m referring to non-Jews who have made their home in a Messianic congregation. How can these people be seen as mere guests? If that is your view , it is one that says to the non-Jew, you’re welcome to visit but you’re not an equal partner. It is precisely this type of treatment that concerns me, as I tried to articulate in my original comment.
Such a position makes me wonder whether a Gentile disciple can be in a position of leadership in that type of congregation. If the answer is no, then the non-Jew would never be more than an associate member in that setting. My reading of Acts, Romans, Galatians, and some of the modern commentators such as Nanos, Kinzer, and Zetterhorn lead me to envision a first century community that was made up of three types of Yeshua-centered congregations: 1) those that were predominantly Jewish, 2) those that were predominantly Gentile, and 3) those that were a roughly equal mixture of both. While we cannot go back and recreate the environment of the first century, we can certainly strive to achieve it on some level.
While we don’t know exactly what took place in the Gentile congregations, we do know that the apostle Paul appointed them as elders. I would also surmise that Paul taught them an order of service similar to that of the normative synagogue of his day. They also appeared to be subject to the authority of the Jewish leadership within the city. I’m not suggesting they became Jews, but they were definitely seen as being a part of the Jewish community. We also know that they maintained boundaries of identity. For instance, Trophimus the Ephesian did not go into the Temple with Paul (Acts 21:29) nor did Titus become circumsised (Gal 2:1-3).
Did these Gentile congregations read from the Torah? Did the Gentile believers in the mixed congregations read from the Torah, assuming that it was read (Acts 15:21) in that setting? No one can say for sure. If I had to say one way or the other, I’d probably say that few, if any, did. However, my reasons for saying so are that few Gentiles of that day could read and even fewer could read Hebrew. More likely, the Gentile believers who were literate read from the Septuagint, if they read at all. Perhaps in our time the non-Jewish contingent of the local Messianic synagogue could read the English translation after the scroll is read.
What I’m trying to achieve, Gene, is to properly define the roles of Jew and Gentile, while seeing them as equal partners. What I sense from you is a willingness to dismiss non-Jews as irrelevant to the Messianic Community. Granted, expressing oneself in written form is a rather difficult task, so forgive me if I misunderstand your opinion
“If you are referring to the occasional visitor, then I agree with your position. However, I’m referring to non-Jews who have made their home in a Messianic congregation.”
David, a non-Jew who has made himself/herself at home in a Messianic Jewish synagogue should be able to participate in much of the things that Jews participate in. However, he or she should not become a leader in the congregation where he can influence a direction of the synagogue (especially teaching Jewish subjects) unless he has converted (like Nicholas the proselyte who was made a “deacon” to oversee feeding of Greek Jewish widows, Acts 6:5), he/she should not be called up to Torah and his children should not be bar/bat-mitzvad. Gentiles leaders leading Jews in Jewish congregations is exactly the situation where many MJ congregations find themselves today.
Our equality is before G-d and we are all of equal worth to him – but there are many roles in the Kingdom of G-d. Contrary to what some Christians believe, I don’t believe that Gentiles will be leaders over Jews in the Kingdom, and for that reason, I do not believe that Gentiles should be leaders over Jews in the context of Messianic Jewish congregations. I believe that Jews should be led and taught by Jews.
“My reading of Acts, Romans, Galatians, and some of the modern commentators such as Nanos, Kinzer, and Zetterhorn lead me to envision a first century community that was made up of three types of Yeshua-centered congregations”
I think that much is being assumed here about how the very first congregations functioned. Most of the Jewish congregations were located in the Land of Israel, and had Jewish majorities by default. True, first G-d Fearers most likely worshiped in synagogues – but they were already used to doing so. However, this seems to have quickly changed. First churches of the Gentiles appeared in places visited by Paul, who, I believe, has set up a unique structure specifically for the Gentiles churches, structure not found in traditional synagogues (although is some regards similar). He taught them how to worship and even how to dress – it’s highly unlikely knowing what we know about how Paul felt about Gentile freedom that he also taught them to follow Jewish liturgy and dress as Jews. It’s unlikely that Paul would have had Gentiles read Torah as a part of daily ritual as done in synagogues or have them follow the same reading schedule as Jews. It’s also highly unlikely that Paul taught Gentiles to observe Shabbat or the Jewish feasts (he certainly didn’t indicate that in his writings).
“What I’m trying to achieve, Gene, is to properly define the roles of Jew and Gentile, while seeing them as equal partners. What I sense from you is a willingness to dismiss non-Jews as irrelevant to the Messianic Community.”
Messianic Judaism is not a universal religion for all mankind – and as such, it doesn’t need to seek to accommodate itself to everyone’s spiritual needs and individual perceptions of what equality in G-d’s Kingdom means. We have One Messiah – Yeshua, but we are not all the same. Our equality does require us to be the same, but to treat one another with love. We need to support Christian churches as Gentile expressions of Yeshua faith and not demonize them as “pagan”. We need to stop the Judaizing of Gentiles and other such trends that bring so much confusion and division to the Body. However, we need to welcome true Gentile friends of the Jewish people into our congregations, those who support the vision of renewal of Israel.
Excellent points, one and all.
It’s good that you and I agree about so many things.
I’ve explained to you why One Law gentiles are denying/suppressing the unique election and continuing role of the people of Israel in God’s plan of world redemption. You deny that this occurs, but you don’t deny that the activities I am concerned about occur with regularity. The very idea of non-Jews dressing like Jewish people, taking up Jewish customs, saying that they are Israelites through faith in Yeshua, that the Torah from Sinai was given to them, and so on, is by its very nature denying that Israel is the elect people.
Take for example your vehement rejection of the idea of conversion (a gentile joining Israel). In your mind this is heresy because the (former) gentile in Messiah is now an Israelite (you may say “of the commonwealth of Israel” instead of “Israelite,” but you define “of the commonwealth of Israel” precisely as “Israelite,” so no point making that argument).
If it is anathema for a non-Jew to convert because this would deny the (alleged) doctrine that in Messiah they already are Israelites, then can you not see this is denying any unique role to the people of Israel.
I don’t understand what I have to say to make you realize you can’t have it both ways.
And if you do see a different role for non-Jews and Jews in Messiah, what do you think of the distinctions I brought up? You mentioned eggshell walking. But you say One Law groups recognize some distinction. So how is that practically demonstrated? I am genuinely asking and not trying to smother you with a rhetorical question.
LOL. Where is my “vehement rejection of the idea of conversion”? You just invented that in your head. I’ve never been “vehemently opposed” to the idea. The most I’ve said on the matter is that it’s superfluous.
Now, imagine, fine blog readers, that if Derek conjures up false negative images of me — someone he’s known for 3 or 4 years — just imagine how deranged and inaccurate and dangerous his view of the broad Torah-for-the-nations movement is, God-breathed as it is.
Derek, in our congregation, we don’t walk on eggshells because any person that wishes to take on God’s commandments is free and encouraged to do so. If a gentile wears fringes to remind himself of God’s commandments, we don’t freak out and boot him from our congregations. If a gentile reads Scripture and it contains blessings to Israel, we’re happy that he is joining himself to Israel’s blessings.
I have been thinking through these issues for several months and have not written about them. Even now I am only saying a little and not committing myself. For one thing, I have not made up my own mind about them.
I am looking forward to conversation in groups in person in Atlanta, not online, with more depth, over the next year or two.
Already in your comments, you have vacillated a bit (perhaps not on purpose, but also because you are just forming thoughts and trying to hold together the multiple truths and perspectives).
For example, we might put on one side of the equation justice, equal treatment of people, the possibility of a precedent for mixed Jewish-Gentile groups in the apostolic period, and so on. On the other side we might uphold the uniqueness of Israel’s calling, the fact that Jewish-Gentile mixed congregations may have been transitional and not a permanent model, the fact that the Torah covenant at Sinai was made with Israel alone, and so on.
I really don’t plan to go into detail on my blog about the exact parameters. These are extraordinarily complex issues affecting a community of real people. It needs to be a discussion with many involved. I am in discussion with some people already (not online) and we will have wonderful discussions among friends in Atlanta (not online).
Someday, perhaps with much group affirmation, we can put forward a platform for differentiation and mutual respect that is the product of more than one mind. That is what we need to work toward.
BTW, I repeated the “not online” comment a few times for a reason. Online discussions have the problem of generating controversy and not intimacy. For one thing, many who are thoroughly opposed in theology and practice to the things we are committed to enter into the discussion. If our goal was for like-minded people who buy into the continuing covenantal relationship between Israel and God to discuss a platform for improvement in matters of identity in the future, an online debate is not the place. Many would chime in merely to try and shoot the whole thing down.
So why do I even bother discussing these things with people who do not share by commitment to the uniqueness of Israel’s calling? I think that we keep each other on our toes. I think that in discussion we come to some better mutual understanding at times. I certainly don’t think an open forum discussion is without value.
But, it is not the same thing as a like-minded group working together for solutions. That needs to be off-forum and face to face (where relationships take precedence over words).
While I have made my opinions on these issues known before, I think they could bear repeating.
I think counting non-Jews to the minyan is a bad idea. Counting someone to a minyan in Judaism is saying that they are obligated to that thing, and I think that saying that non-Jews are obligated in (rabbinic, liturgical) prayer is an incorrect. Also, do you really have an assembled community of Israel when you have one Jew and nine non-Jews gathered to pray?
I’m more willing to be flexible about aliyot, even though I do think it would be best if we pushed the limits of Gentile inclusion within the bounds of universal community practice (i.e., allowed Gentiles to open the doors of the ark, carry the Torah around the congregation, etc.) rather than violating those bounds altogether.
“…rather than violating those bounds altogether.”
I agree, Ovadia… How far are we, as Jewish followers of Yeshua, willing to go to violate the “Torah and traditions of other fathers” (to quote Paul) and STILL be able to claim that we are blameless in the sight of our people in mutilating what it means to be and live as a Jew. Here’s the kicker: if Apostle Paul could claim before witnesses that he was blameless in breaking BOTH Torah AND the traditions of our fathers, how can one today claim that the same Paul also taught and encouraged freely blurring the lines between Jews and Gentiles when it came to Jewish Torah observances and synagogue service (did Jewish traditions of that time allowed for that – highly unlikely!)?
Gene, you raise a very interesting and seemingly valid point. I shall have to ponder this one.
You are absolutely correct in that I haven’t yet completely formed a strong opinion and am still trying to figure out the truth.
I couldn’t agree more. Looking forward to some Shabat afternoon discussions at Tikvat David.
I have enjoyed reading this very much.
I tend to agree with the idea of Gentiles not wearing tallit, or having Bar/ Bat Mitzvah, being included in minion, etc. I think these ideas should be common to Messianic Judaism, since it is a Judaism.
I also support the idea that we strongly encourage Gentiles to reconsider the beauty and value of their own particular cultural heritage. (And that we should help them in any way we can – but not to the detriment of our own Jewish identity.)
The group caught in between is the most sensitive to deal with. I know so many (kind, loving) Gentiles in this situation… and still, I have to wonder… why was I able to question and work through these issues (with the conclusion to convert) and others seem to get angry just by having to face the question…?
What exactly is it about letting Jews operate as Jews and letting Gentiles have their own form of worship and cultural experience that becomes so offensive to others? Is it just a case of really bad theology and lack of education? Why do some seem to fight tooth and nail to keep Messianic Judaism as it is, IMO, dysfunctional and confusing?
Is this a result of largely assimilated Jews influencing leadership in congregations? Intermarried couples whose unresolved personal struggles manifest on a broader scale and influence entire congregations…? A general rebellion by Jews against the Judaism of their time, later picked up and encouraged by Gentiles who lack proper understanding of Scripture regarding Jew/ Gentile issues…?
Sometimes a lack of boundaries is more detrimental to a situation than temporary hurt feelings.
I think personal discussion sounds wonderful. I attempted that on more than one occasion. People have to be willing to talk and work through it. Unfortunately, even discussing the topic seems taboo in many places. I think ignoring the issue is an unhealthy approach.
k3z7 – “I have to wonder… why was I able to question and work through these issues (with the conclusion to convert) and others seem to get angry just by having to face the question…?”
I’m glad you were able to come to the conclusion that conversion was the proper way to go for you. However, the idea of conversion for many Gentiles within the Messianic Community is a tough pill to swallow. The Apostle Paul sternly warned his followers against it (Galatians 5), a warning which people continue to take very seriously. Assuming they overcome that barrier, they still must find a beit din (Jewish Court) that will perform the conversion. Going outside the Messianic Community is not really an option since doing so requires that a person deny his/her faith in Yeshua or at least give the appearance of denying him. That leaves the Messianic Community as the only viable alternative. In that camp, the UMJC is the only legitimate group I know that offers conversion. But that group is quite reluctant to convert non-Jews. My understanding is that they believe conversions should be rare, reserved for inter-married couples, non-Jews serving as leaders of congregations having a significant percentage of Jewish members, and perhaps others (my information here is rather sketchy, based on the word of others). Perhaps many will follow in your footsteps, but conversion does not appear a viable option for the masses at the present time.
– David Cook
The fact that it is a ‘tough pill to swallow’ reinforces my belief that many probably should not convert. It’s a serious thing – a life time thing – not to be taken lightly.
I also understand how frustrating it is to have a deep desire to convert but no access to any form of conversion within the movement. I’m so glad the MJRC has stepped up to the plate and begun to provide options for those who qualify.
Honestly, I’d be kind of freaked out if masses started converting… That would bother me. I think each case should be individually evaluated.
I guess the point of my confusion comes from the number of people who are Gentiles, who have no desire to convert, and just want to ‘hang out’ as a ‘Messianic’ and get touchy if someone wonders why they are there in the first place…
Have they not ever questioned that themselves???
Or has the leadership made it such a comfy place to hang out – invited any and everyone to join in – majority Gentiles took up the invitation- and now they feel it somehow belongs to them just as much or even more than those to whom it was intended….?
I would like you to consider the possibility of what would have happened if the UMJC would not have offered a conversion ritual to Gentiles. I would like you to consider, you not being welocmed to Dauermann”s congregation. I would like you to consider one of your members come to you as a leader and asking you to take off the Talit, and not touch the Torah scroll. I would like you to consider how does it feel to be on the outside looking in.
Does your congregation have enough Jews to form a minyan? If not the “grace” of the UMJC in offring conversions how would you feel?
I know, the UMJC does not offer conversion, but you went through one and that is why you are talking like a Jew, which come to think of it, to mainstream Judaism (the one MJ are trying to emulate) your conversion is not worth the paper it was written on….
Not trying to offend, just trying to clear things….
“I would like you to consider the possibility of what would have happened if the UMJC would not have offered a conversion ritual to Gentiles.”
Dan, you have contradicted yourself in the same comment – as you noted in the second paragraph UMJC doesn’t offer conversions to Gentiles and most UMJC congregations may not even recognize them – the MJRC (Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council), a separate organization, however, does. It’s up to individual Jewish leaders within UMJC and beyond, as well as their congregations to decide to recognize conversions or not.
“I would like you to consider how does it feel to be on the outside looking in.”
It’s only when people have a wrong perception of themselves do they begin to feel slighted and angered for not being accepted by others for something they are not. Most of the converts I encountered have a healthy perception of their own identity as well as a healthy respect for Jewish identity. They also have a great respect for Jewish right to lead their own Jewish communities as they see fit and enforce Jewish identity standards (including conversions).
Dan and All,
Although Gene already pointed this out, just a point of clarification: At this moment the UMJC does not offer, nor necessarily officially recognize Messianic Jewish conversions. Much of your assumptions may come from particular leaders affiliated in some way with the UMJC, but it does not currently represent the official position of the UMJC.
Hi, Judah. As you know, the Scriptures don’t specify the form that the fringes should take. There’s no mention of knots and numbers of knots, or that the fringes should be attached to a certain kind of garment. So why would non-Jews wear that specific kind of garment, a tallit, that has been designed outside the boundaries of Scripture by and for Jews?
Some non-Jews who have been brought into the Commonwealth of Israel believe they should keep all, or just about all, of the commandments given to Israel in the Scriptures. But then shouldn’t they also go out of their way not to needlessly stumble fellow-members of the Commonwealth, the vast majority of Jews who find this sort of practice offensive.
We don’t wear the same grment. Ours has a thread of blue….God has an exclusive on that, not Judaism.
Dan, how do you tie your tzitzit? I bet you do it according to rabbinic standard (or is it Tim Heggs standard that you follow?)!
BTW, many Jews in Israel wear blue threads – there’s no BAN against it in Judaism – it’s only a custom for those who await their Messiah to tell them which exact substance (knowledge of which is considered lost, in the same way divisions between tribes are unknown today, but one day will be revealed) creates green-blue threads which won’t fade.!
Derek … the list of questions you’ve highlighted in this post is one I’ve long wanted the MJRC to mull over and publish Guidelines on. I think there’s a lot of wisdom to be found in a small crowd of pulpit rabbis who have years of experience in dealing with these delicate identity issues.
I don’t think it’s appropriate for a non-Jewish child to have a ritual circumcision (outside of the context of conversion). To circumcise one’s son is to publicly declare that he is a descendant of Jacob, and as such, that he is obligated to keep all of the commandments.
For similar reasons, I don’t think it’s appropriate for non-Jewish children to undergo B’nai Mitzvah. A B’nai Mitzvah is not a Sweet Sixteen party. It is not simply a coming of age. The very title of the ceremony, “child of the commandments,” indicates that the child is ritually, spiritually, morally, and legally obligated to observe the commandments.
Nor do I think it appropriate for a non-Jewish couple to sign a ketubah and say to each other “you are betrothed to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” How can someone be bound by the laws of a people that one is not a member of or whom one has the option of leaving at any time?
Perhaps the MJRC would adopt a more accommodating or flexible view than my own. If that happens, and they’re willing to ink it out and publicly commit, then I’d swallow my insistence that words have meaning and go along with the communal norm.
In the absence of a communal norm, however, I’ll go on insisting that we should say what we mean and mean what we say.
“If that happens, and they’re willing to ink it out and publicly commit, then I’d swallow my insistence that words have meaning and go along with the communal norm.”
Monique… I feel the same way. I may be willing to overlook some of the inconsistencies (and disagreements that I hold with) that I see in certain few authoritative MJ organizations today (to a point) for an established communal norm that will preserve Jewish identity in a way that conforms to mainstream Jewish norms (instead of trying to redefined them or lower the bar of entry). Anything is better than the confusion that reigns today in many parts of MJ.
Monique – I very much agree with your perspective. I think words do have significant meaning and personally, it would be hard for me to agree to make exceptions for these things… really hard.
I agree with Gene too… Any step in the right direction is better than the confusion we have today.
But do we really have to wait another 20 or 50 years for this stream of Judaism to mature? Can the process not be speed along a little bit here?
“To circumcise one’s son is to publicly declare that he is a descendant of Jacob, and as such, that he is obligated to keep all of the commandments.”
Hamm…I wonder if the Muslims think that way. I wonder if they are all Jews now….Circumcision is the sign of the covenant. This is what God told Abraham. Paul says we are ALL sons of Abraham, so you do the math….
I said what I mean, and meant what I said….
That does not make an sense. Muslims are:
a) Not claiming to be entering their sons into the Covenant of Israel
b) Not doing it on the eighth day, in accordance with the Torah (Muslims do it at 13)
c) There is currently no social confusion – as many societies circumcise boys – viewing it as more of a medical procedure. And when it is done, it is not by a mohel, without Hebrew brachot, and no rabbi is present.
So forgive me if I don’t see your “slam dunk.”
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There is a very related discussion that could possibly bridge some gaps in D. Lancaster’s book “Grafted In.” If you have it, go read the Appendix “To Pray As A Gentile.” I would be interested in if anybody has any thoughts after reading it. The thrust is that praying Jewish liturgy is a matter of intention, kavanah. I won’t say anymore, because it is a very thoughtful look at the matter and merits consideration.
That was only one example. Here is another one: Abraham circumcise Isaac, can Monique claim that Abraham publically declared Isaac a descendant of Jacob?
Monique’s point was simply that circumcision as performed according to Jewish understanding – on the eight day, with a mohel, with specific brachot, etc. serves only ONE purpose: complete entrance into the covenant between HaShem and Israel.
Abraham’s circumcision of Isaac is exactly that. Isaac was Abraham’s son and a Hebrew. His circumcision only completed/sealed his covenental identity which he was already born into.
What do you mean by “Jewish understanding?” What about biblical understanding? Where does it say in Scriptures that circumcision makes someone a Jew? What about the strangers and the slaves in Abraham’s household (the first covenant community)who were members of the household before they got circumcised?
Note Gen. 17:14: …”…cut off from his people…” I would think that in order for someone to be cut off from a people, he first have to belong to a people, right?
“What do you mean by “Jewish understanding?” What about biblical understanding?”
Dan, if the very “salvation is from the Jews”, how much more so is the case for the Jewish understanding and interpretation of scripture that G-d himself entrusted to the Jewish people (I am talking about both Jews who believe in Yeshua and those who yet do not)?
To address your assumption about conversions of Gentiles to Judaism (and ESPECIALLY these Gentiles subsequently being called “Jews”) being a “non-biblical” rabbinic invention let me ask you how do you interpret the following verse:
“In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities BECAME JEWS (or JEWISH) because fear of the Jews had seized them.” (Esther 8:17)
Dan, sounds like you’ve never attended a bris.
I did, The first was when I was 8 days old. Since then I have attended many. But what does it have to do with our discussion?
there is no evidence in this term מתיהדים for a “ritual of conversion,” and the most obvious meaning is that the masses sided with the Jews in order to save their lives.
ורבים מעמי הארץ מתיהדים The presence of the verb in Ester 8:17 (is found only here) described what took place without necessarily indicating divine action. There also is no evidence that the ritual of conversion was extant during the Persian era.
The hitpael, “made themselves Jews” most likly mean “they sided with the Jews,” not that they circumcised themselves.
“there is no evidence in this term מתיהדים for a “ritual of conversion,” and the most obvious meaning is that the masses sided with the Jews in order to save their lives.”
Dan, I think if it says that these Gentiles “became Jews”, it’s safe to say that the men were circumcised. The text doesn’t tell us HOW they went about doing so or how long the process took – for all we know, they went to Jewish authorities (priests and levites, or scribes of the likes of Ezra) and had themselves officially circumcised by them.
“There also is no evidence that the ritual of conversion was extant during the Persian era.”
What is a Jewish “ritual of conversion”? The so called ritual of conversion itself can hardly be called a ritual (it’s not very elaborate), and for men, it centers simply on circumcision AND mikveh, both of which were practiced by Jews from the days of old. It’s not more a ritual than Christan baptism. Does it become a ritual because someone says a few prayers? Some people confuse the sometimes difficult preparation process instituted by the sages (study of Jewish text and observant living, and becoming part of the Jewish community) to weed out those who are not serious BEFORE they GET to the conversion “ritual” with the actual conversion itself. So, the actual initiation into the Mosaic Covenant (circumcision) remains the same from the time Israelites received Torah.
Dan, I know that you claim (contrary to overwhelming scriptural evidence) that even Jewish ADULTS/born Jews are never commanded to be circumcised if they were not already circumcised at 8 days old. You do so to support the idea that Gentiles are required to follow ALL of Torah as Jews, but don’t need to be circumcised if they are adults (since you claim that Jewish adult men don’t need to do so either). With that in mind, I am not sure how far can one get arguing other, finer points of scriptures.
You are misunderstood about the term מתיהדים. It means only “to become Jewish.” In no extant texts or usage is there any reference to מתיהדים referring to simply “siding with Jews.”
Additionally, it is also not true that conversion is specifically a “later rabbinic invention.”
Gene brought up Esther 8:17. However, there are other references, particularly from the New Testament. According to Strongs, the term proselyte(s) is mentioned FOUR TIMES in the New Testament alone.
Here are just two examples:
-“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven … both Jews (by birth) and proselytes” (Acts 2:5-10).
-“Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of G-d” (Acts. 13:43).
By the Second Temple period, the concept of proselytes to Judaism was already well-established. These two verses demonstrate that there was a category beyond that of Godfearers, who were full converts – Jews in every sense of the word.
And the Apostle Luke does not make any judgement against these “Jews by choice.” Rather, he places them in high regard by not only mentioning them, but mentioning them in three places within his letter.
The only seemingly negative use of the term proselyte in the entire NT is Yeshua’s reference to particular Pharisees and scribes who go to great lengths to bring proselytes into the faith, but lead them down the wrong path. In this context, it is not that proselytes who are the problem, but the specific group of scribes and pharisees he is addressing.
-“Woe to you, teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Mt 23:15)
There is even some interesting scholarship on Acts 16 that supports a theory that Paul had Timothy undergo a type of conversion “because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek (16:3).”
There is additionally references to proselytes in some of the Apocryphal and pseudopygraphic literature.
So as you can see, the idea of conversion was already well established by the time of Yeshua, and the Second Temple period.
I know that the term proselyte is mentioned in the New Testament, it still does not nagate the fact that the ritual of a proselyte is a later invention.
I let some scholars speak for me:
“In those passages of the Torah that emphasize the social inequality of the resident alien, the LXX usually translates GER with “paroikos,” Greek for resident alien; in those passages of the Torah that emphasize the legal equality of the resident alien, the LXX usually translates GER with “proselutos,” A NEW GREEK WORD.
(begining of Jewishness- Shaye Cohen P.121)
Also see the comments of:
Terrence L. Donaldson–Paul and the Gentiles: remapping the Apostle’s convictional world. P. 55
Kuhn “proselutos” in ADNT, 6:730/
Lawrence Schiffman–Tannaitic perspective on the Jewish-Christian Schism in Jewish and Christian self definition 2.121.
None of them agrees with your definitions.
BTW, The mentioning of the proselytes by Luke in the book of acts rather affirms my point. If they converted and became Jews, why call hem proselytes?
You are reading your agenda into Scriptures.
Just like you said, the text does not tell us HOW, so my guess is as good as yours. Oh, no, wait…My guess is better since there is not place in Scriptures were we can find that circumcision makes someone Jewish? You know as well as I that it is a later invention of the rabbis, right?
“…practiced by Jews of old…” I wondered what was the need, since like you said they were Jews already….Confused?
One more time: There is no Scriptural evidence whatsoever that circumcision makes one Jewish. you can argue until you are blue in the face but it will not change this fact. The ritual of a proselyte is a later invention.
You have no idea what I calim, so stop throwing mud on the wall hoping it will stick. Paul circumcised Timothy, why should I object?
“You have no idea what I calim, so stop throwing mud on the wall hoping it will stick. Paul circumcised Timothy, why should I object?”
Dan, it’s OK if you have changed your mind since last time – I am not going to hold you to the previously made statements (which can be seen online with a quick search.) Everyone should do likewise and scrutinize their long-held beliefs, and then make necessary adjustments in light of facts.
Then, why don’t you practice what you preach?
“Then, why don’t you practice what you preach?”
I do, just not regarding what you consider as “facts.”
How does this contradict my point above? You claimed earlier above that conversion is a late rabbinic invention. Then, in your most recent reply you claim that “the ritual of a proselyte is a later invention.”
I am not contradicting the scholars you quoted. For example, your first quote discusses the LXX on the Torah. I am NOT speaking about the idea of a formal conversion that early in Jewish history. My point was (and is) that by the time of the Second Temple Period (and that of Yeshua) there was indeed a recognized conversion process in place.
The verses I cited above all speak for themselves.
The verses you cited do speak for themselves, but how does it advance your’s and Gene’s claim on Ester 8:17?
I am putting together a research on this verse. I will post it on my blog.