In yesterday’s post, I attempted to start afresh on a topic much discussed on Messianic Jewish Musings in the past. The topic needs some fresh air. The movement of Torah-seeking gentiles needs some good fruit. The relationship between churches and Messianic synagogues needs some mutual blessing. The zeal of people recognizing a misplaced aversion to all things Torah and all things Jewish in popular Christianity needs to be directed where it matters, not on “me and my Torah” but to “our majestic, infinite Father and his uniting all things in Messiah.”
What is Torah? A Fresh Appraisal
I noted at the beginning that readers of this series may be coming from different places in the spectrum of Torah-observance. Of course, I have many Jewish readers. Their stake in this discussion is of course to see how the turning of tens or even hundreds of thousands of non-Jews toward Torah can result in the mutual blessing of the Abrahamic covenant and not the same old paradigm of “we gentiles replace you Jews in the economy of Yeshua.”
And I have many non-Jewish readers, whose different levels of appropriating Torah I listed yesterday, all the way from Christians interested in understanding the Sabbath, the status of Israel as the Chosen People, and the biblical calendar to gentiles involved in the Messianic movement and in the Jewish community.
What is Torah? It is regarding this question that many have confusion. Here is the #1 issue for most people who have come into this Torah-seeking movement:
For far too long, the Christian tendency has been to divide the Bible into two stories and in sundering the New Testament Church (the multi-national people of God who are to be in unity with the Jewish movement for Yeshua) from its Jewish roots, people have been left with a Bible they are supposed to read as a divided text. The common Christian view of the “Old Testament” leaves many unfulfilled and confused. The beauty and grace of the Hebrew Bible has been lost and the many signs of vibrant Jewish life in the New Testament have been ignored but they refuse to be silenced.
So, on a typical path to rediscover the testament-that-is-not-so-old and to seek and reclaim lost Jewish roots, many people wade in with too little knowledge and make some other mistakes.
Torah is a word that means many things. The complexity is often lost on people rediscovering the Jewish roots of their faith. Torah means all of the following:
(1) The first five books of the Bible (Chumash or Pentateuch would be a better term).
(2) The covenant between God and Israel made at Sinai (a covenant that is about the people of Israel, the land of Israel, and relation to God).
(3) The traditions and extra-biblical customs and rulings of the leaders of Israel’s people about how to keep Torah commands (most of the commands require traditions to fill them in and so tradition is not an option, but a necessity — a fact largely ignored in gentile Torah movements). Major elements in this meaning of Torah include Mishnah, Talmud, and halacha.
(4) The body of writing by the sages (Chazal) of Israel about Torah practice, interpretation, and theology.
(5) A general word for God’s teaching or instruction, which can be applied to not only the Pentateuch, but also the prophets, writings, and New Testament.
So, when you seek to recover the Torah for your own faith, know that you are doing something very, very good. But take care and move slowly. We have much to learn. This is not a path to be undertaken by lone rebels set on righting all the wrongs of the last 2,000 years. This is a task to be undertaken together, with much rewarding study and in community. This is a task that calls for both enthusiasm and humility.
In the Jewish community, people do not think they can simply learn Torah on their own.
In the Torah-seeking interest of many Christians and many Messianic and Hebraic movements, I hope the same will be realized.
To learn Torah, the following things are a minimum:
(1) Regular reading and study of the Chumash-Pentateuch.
(2) Commentary informed by rabbinic sources.
(3) Commentary informed by Christian sources (in spite of some errors, Christian insight into Torah is vital, and often provides correctives for rabbinic sources which have been prejudiced against the Word made flesh and against a universal plan of redemption for Jew and gentile).
(4) Community with others who are learning Torah.
(5) Commentary on the New Testament informed by a better method, seeing the Bible as a single story leading to all things united in Messiah.
What I am Saying Practically
Many people who have walked this road of Torah-seeking have already bought into unfortunate errors. It is essential to be open to change.
What has happened with the Union of Messianic Believers (see yesterday’s post) and First Fruits of Zion is a great example. Movements that once moved in a zealous trajectory (“we must all keep Torah the same way”) have re-evaluated and come up with a bigger vision (“Jews and Christians together in Messiah, but with some differences in calling”).
At one time, it was assumed in the UMB and at FFOZ that all of Jesus’ followers had an obligation to keep he dietary law and Sabbath (and even wear fringes). These movements came to understand that not every commandment is for every person. God reveals callings for the people of Israel that are different than his callings for the nations.
When FFOZ announced change, many were upset. Their first reaction was, “This Torah is mine and you are trying to take it away.” No, Torah is God’s. And Torah is not about entitlement. It is about setting the world free and bringing the world to healing and faith and oneness under God.
So, as you learn Torah and decide what God has for you to do and to be within his magnificent plan, seek out mature commentary. Seek out community with people who “get it.”
Resist and refuse groups who undermine two bedrock items of faith:
…that the Jewish people are the Chosen People, always will be, that God is working in Judaism presently and in the future, that God has not been silent to his people, and, therefore, that rabbinic tradition, though imperfect, is the result of God’s work among his people…
…that Christianity, the multi-national congregation of many denominations and traditions, is God’s people too, the product of Abrahamic blessing spreading to all the families of the earth, and church traditions, though also imperfect, are the result of God’s working among his people.
Do not be hasty to reject the wisdom of the past, in Judaism or Christianity. Do not imagine that some little movement of Torah-observant people with faith in Yeshua are now the new elect. We are all imperfect and we are all learners. We have much to learn from each other. We will not get it all right. But the marker of success is good fruit.