Not Jewish yet Drawn to Torah, Part 3

In Part 1 of this series, I had one main point and several sub-points. The main point: non-Jews learning Torah should realize that the primary audience of Torah is the Jewish people. Sub-points: (1) Torah, like gospel, is not anyone’s personal domain but is God’s redemptive plan, (2) there are great resources available from FFOZ.org and a valuable association at http://www.umjc.org/umb-mainmenu-105, (3) there are different levels of interest in Torah and different ways non-Jews might find themselves related to it.

In Part 2 of this series, the main point: Torah means five different things and knowing this will help you find your relationship to it. Sub-points: (1) Torah study is a communal activity and not an individual exercise, (2) there are numerous confused groups on the internet and in congregations, (3) two bedrock concepts will help you avoid confusion: the Jewish people are God’s Chosen People and Christianity is God’s movement of redemption in the nations.

Now, in Part 3, I want to address the situation many of my non-Jewish readers find themselves in. You may be a long-time member of a “Messianic” congregation or at least you desire to be highly involved in Torah, living a Torah lifestyle of some sort. I put “Messianic” in quotes because the congregations many find themselves in are not Jewish in a variety of ways (few or no Jewish people, a lack of respect for Jewish norms, subtle or blatant anti-Judaism, etc.). Or maybe you are a non-Jew in a Messianic synagogue (heavily Jewish and intermarried constituency, following standards of observance such as those of the MJRC at ourrabbis.org).

In Part 4, I will address some issues for church-going Christians interested in Torah.

What are some healthy responses from non-Jews heavily into Torah and some branch of the “Messianic” movement?

(1) Reconsider Christianity. What were your reasons for leaving? Let me anticipate and try to defuse a criticism: “Derek, I can’t believe you started with this one; you just want non-Jews to go back to churches.”

No, I want people to make informed choices. And a bedrock notion for me is that Christianity, in all its imperfections (it’s hilarious if anyone thinks that Judaism or “Messianic” groups do better overall than Christianity) is God’s redemptive community for the nations.

Reasons you left church (or are considering it) might include:

. . . Insufficient or non-existent Bible teaching. Many churches are abject failures, assuming that people do not want or need biblical study. Sermons are pablum and self-help. Sunday School classes are social gatherings with a smattering of unprepared talk by non-learned teachers of texts no one is trying to grapple with. Perhaps the superior commitment you have found to Bible teaching in a “Messianic” group attracted you. This is a good thing. Perhaps, though, you can find this in a church. Or at least we should say, there is no reason for you to start living a Jewish lifestyle simply because you desire deeper biblical instruction.

. . . A shameful theology of Israel and the Jewish people. Many churches routinely assume the blessings of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are for Christians. Israel is a footnote in history. Done. Kaput. Pharisees are the bogey-men of preaching. “Jew” is a bad word from the pulpit. “Jewish” means inferior worship and legalism in desperate need of the allegedly superior offering of the shallow little gospel preached and lived at the church.

. . . A divided Bible and a divided narrative of God’s redemptive plan. The “Old Testament” is inferior in many places. The first 80% of the Bible barely even needs to exist. The gospels do not even make the cut (except parts of John). Really, these churches could just carry a tiny booklet with Paul’s letters and do just fine. But you see that the Bible is one developing narrative and long for teaching that brings the parts together.

But here is the thing: none of these reasons necessitate joining a “Messianic” group. You could find a church that does better. Maybe in your previous search you were not broad enough. Maybe only a certain label on the door of the church was worth considering (such as “Baptist” or “Lutheran”). Maybe there were more people there who felt the way you did and you did not look for them.

Let me at least say this. If you find unhealthy signs in your “Messianic” group or if you realize you really don’t desire to be in a Jewish community, look around at churches and visit them for a while. You might be surprised at what you find. If you choose to remain with either a Jewish community or a Torah-keeping community, at least you decision will be based on better information.

But if you joined a Messianic group for bigger reasons, because of your love for God’s redemptive plan spreading out from Israel to the nations, and you desire to be a part of the more Jewish part of what God is doing, then your reasons are healthy and good.

(2) Recognize unhealthy signs in Messianic or Torah groups.

. . . Divorcing Torah from the people of Torah (the Jewish people). Teaching in some way or form that the members of the group are the people of Torah without being Jewish. One prominent Torah-is-for-gentiles teacher is holding a seminar in which he teaches that Torah is part of your identity in Messiah. This way of looking at Torah ignores one of the five things Torah is: a covenant between God and the people of Israel.

. . . Denouncing Christianity. They (gasp) celebrate Christmas (bowing to their little Christmas idols and plotting secretly to bring Baal worship back into Baptist churches). They (gasp) believe in the Trinity (clearly an idolatrous doctrine of three gods). They (oh my) reject Torah because they don’t want to be under God’s authority. Our “Messianic” movement is the remnant, the true community, keeping it all pure and right. In a word: bunk.

. . . Disrespecting Jewish norms. Those poor, confused Jews make it all up with human reasoning. We (in our tiny, fractured, intellectually stunted little movement) can do a better job and need to redo all the Torah standards. We will make our own “biblical Torah standards” which are not in relation to the standards of Messiah-denying Judaism. In a word: laughable.

. . . Deficiency of love and good deeds. When you are busy being the superior remnant of the only believers left in a godless world of deluded religion, you don’t often have time for things like comforting mourners, lifting up the downcast, and loving as Yeshua loved.

If your group strongly evidences some of these traits, why did you think they were better than some of the churches down the street?

(3) Know your options.

There are excellent Messianic synagogues and I am not questioning your calling to belong to one. If you can find a place, which surely will have some warts, where there is love of Torah, love of the people of Israel, and love for each other, fine. If you think your somewhat unhealthy “Messianic” community has hope for a better future and you want to be an agent of change, maybe staying is a good idea. If your devotion to Torah as a non-Jew and your devotion to God’s redemptive plan for the people of Israel is strong, maybe finding a (Jewish) Messianic Jewish synagogue is right for you. Or maybe your Torah-keeping group has a healthy attitude about Judaism and Christianity.

But know that you have options. Not all groups labeled “Messianic” are the same. I highly recommend the ones that belong to the UMJC (see umjc.org).

And you can learn Torah without being in a “Messianic” group. If there are no healthy ones around, there is no need to go somewhere unhealthy. Surely there is a healthy church near you. You can supplement your educational opportunities with FFOZ material and maybe find some fellowship with like-minded people from a smattering of churches in the area. Being a Judaically informed Christian is a great thing.

(4) Serve where you are planted.

When you have a healthy understanding of your identity in Messiah (keeping Jewish signs of the covenant does not make a gentile more kosher to God) you can let go of negativity and replace it with a positive sense of mission.

As a non-Jew in a Messianic Jewish group, serve the gospel. Love people. Be in community. Do not disparage Jewish norms and traditions. Do not denounce Christians. Do not think that your group has “arrived” and is superior. Messiah is in Judaism and Christianity all over the place and miracles of love and union with God occur in places you might never imagine. (By the way, the same goes if your are Jewish and in a Messianic Jewish group).

If you are a non-Jew in a gentile Torah community, be a voice for the Jewish people, for Christianity as God’s people from the nations, and for the priority of love and good deeds.

If you are a Christian with a strong desire to learn about Torah things (Passover, calendar, Sabbath, etc.), I will share some perspectives in Part 4.

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, Gentiles, Judaism, Judeo-Christian, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Not Jewish yet Drawn to Torah, Part 3

  1. tiqun says:

    “Serve where you are planted”

    thios is what i decided i’ll try to do. there is no messianic synagogue or havurah or anything anywhere close to here; however, there are some ok and some good churches. i would love if you could write about it the other way round: messianic Jews alone, or alone in churches.

    it is not that i have something against the ‘oh so terrible churches and their pagan practices’ but often i’m sad/lonely. i realize we function differently, and sharing mutually is not always easy. some still think that when Yeshua talks about ‘the outcast’ it must neccessarily be the Jews. in such moments i feel attacked personally even though i know the person is a ‘good christian’ and has nothing against me personally. our tradition is often seen as fables or ‘way out there’.

    i struggle to keep jewish and not disappear in the mass of christians, being an “ambassador” for Torah, Israel, my people.

    thank you for your always interesting articles.

  2. Julie says:

    Refreshing! Last year I posted a photo of my family taken in front of a Christmas tree. One of my facebook friends, someone I “met” through the homeschooling community, replied, “I hope you enjoyed your Solstice Sabbat.” She describes herself as Torah Observant. Tonight I read about a woman who forces herself to “spits out” thank you when someone wishes her a Merry Christmas. Up until recently neither of these women were Torah observant. Most of their adult life they have celebrated Christmas. I live in a remote area. When I look for community in people drawn to Torah, I must look online or drive for 2-hours. I am really turned off by the negativity I have found in the Messianic community.

  3. Tiqun:

    I definitely have some thoughts about Jewish followers of Yeshua who are in churches because there is no healthy Messianic Jewish option for them. First, and I’d bet you already do this, you can and should look to the Jewish community in your town as a place of involvement. Maybe even some of your church friends will enjoy “kosher festivals” or a Hebrew class or working at a Jewish charity event. Second, do not let the pull of assimilation seduce you. Dare to be different. Third, for those who have children, train them and celebrate the rituals with them and for goodness’ sake find a way for them to have b’nei mitzvot celebrations and so on.

    Derek Leman

    • tiqun says:

      Derek: as you know, i live in CH, and there aren’t nearly as many Jewish communities around as in hte US; actually, the one closest to here is orthodox and it is dying a slow death (not enough for a minyan, and even if they were liberal and thus counting women, there might not be enough people; probably, the synagogue will soon close, people are moving away) – the closest “lively” Jewish communities are about 3 hours by car away (one way). so it’s virtually no-man’s-land. actually it’s me who’s teaching a small hebrew class.

      it’s not so much that i want to assimilate but sometimes it feels like a constant battle. my husband was christian, is now declared atheist/agnostic; two children: daughter says she wants to be christian so she isn’t different and can eat what she want… son wants to grow peyot…

      i tried getting some hebrew christians/or jewishly-interest people together for Shabbat – and the only time they would manage to squeeze in an hour time for it would would be sunday evening, and only if i do all the work (explain torah, compile prayers, prepare the food…).

      so i am here in a mennonite church and appreciate the stress that is put on bible, discipleship, sanctification in daily life and of course, nice people! yet, i feel “alone”.

      any survival strategies? are there any books on raising children messianic? or, i could take a classic and adapt it. what would you suggest for a messianic homeschooling curriculum as there is no hebrew school?

      thank you!

  4. Julie:

    I hope you will be understanding with these “paganoid” (paranoid of paganism) Torah-zealots. I tend to be hard on them, subjecting them to ridicule and so on, but I know many like them and (secretly) I love them. What disturbs me is that their ire is misdirected and their religion is based on priorities Yeshua would skewer in a second. But what encourages me is that they love scripture and over time, with the right leadership, they can be taught better. Their prejudices may remain, but they can and do respond to the biblical commands for justice, love of Zion, and serving people in love. The problem comes when they do not have leaders who help them in these directions.

    Derek Leman

  5. Tiqun:

    I suggest you use FFOZ materials as much as possible. I hope they are available in Switzerland (I had to look up “CH” online — it’s not easy to guess that stands for Switzerland, LOL).

    If they are not available in Switzerland, email me and I will see what I can do. Also, email me and we could talk about some specific things you might use (great benchers that integrate Yeshua into Shabbat prayers and Birchat Hamazon, Torah Club, etc.).

    derek4messiah at gmail

  6. yaschar says:

    Hi Derek,

    I have a HaYesod Leader (of FFOZ) in Switzerland: http://www.jeremiah.cc/

    Perhaps it will help.

    Eduard

  7. drake82dunaway says:

    Derek,

    I agree with much of what you said. I have met some individuals (not necessarily of any one congregation) where people try to minimize the Rabbis as worthless or the Magen David as pagan. I say to myself “well does that mean all calligraphy is Shinto because Japan invented it as a formal artform?”

    I have enjoyed reading the words of Socrates, and even been touched by the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (even though he dealt harshly with Christians for being a Stoic himself). I understand that men and women outside of the framework of Judaic traditions can come up with good ideas (like automobiles, jeans, double-fermentation, rocketry, repeating arms, and fashion). In fact, I would allege that almost all the nations of the pagan world had well-surpassed the Jewish culture in Art, Science, Literature, and military prowess to name a few things. So I will not discount reading Augustine or Plato or say that anything whose origins cannot be explained under the rubric of Torah is pagan by default. And nor will I discount Rabbis as Yeshua did not completely either with his 4 cups. ;)

    So I agree with you there. Who are a bunch of poseurs that suddenly thought something was cool to define its terms? So there I do not agree with Hegg, though you saw I am enamored with One Law.

    But yet despite the nations surpassing this culture in so many regards, there is the one regard, Truth, which attracts many Gentiles. Ex: Pythagoras, another noble pagan of hallowed antiquity, actually created a numerology cult called the Pythagorean Brotherhood. He was enamored with the order of the universe and sought to weave it into a fabric and wear it as a cloak through life. If a gentile re-discovers Torah, and G-d discovers him back though it, and he earnestly wishes to conform his life to G-d’s seven-day heartbeat, and his live has been ostentatiously bettered…is there not an understanding into the experiential that goes beyond reading and approving while never doing? I ask because I have felt this in ways I have not experienced before in mainline Christianity. If each feast was built by G-d as a way to glorify Himself and Messiah, I feel drawn to that and nothing else. Am I foolish?

    As a matter of fact, just ignore those prior questions. I suspect we’re re-treading old ground and I will get similar answers. What about this one: If a man has such a ravenous hunger for walking in the Word, and looks at G-d’s word in the way Pythagoras regarded triangles and Euclidean space, and he sees less appealing things in the mainline church (not out of meanness) …ought this person make a conversion as you did? Pull a Leman? :) How did you come to your conclusion? I realize I am asking you a very personal question, and such a thing is not a magical button to clear up ambiguities in life (as you said). But what called you? What does that emotion look like? Did you view it as a simple act of obedience in a line of many after accepting Messiah, or a choice to minister to an ignored community? It would be years before I ever maid the choice if I even decided, and I am skeptical of trends (look at my clothing). But the question does present itself. My life tends to draw ridicule from Christians and Jews alike, and so I would be hesitant to swear an oath to be made-fun-of into perpetuity, and would be a decision I would forestall for years.

    I heard a Muslim defend Sharia (skillfully) on the BBC in front of Jack Straw by stating “your Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah tell of a Messiah returning and nations keeping Torah worldwide.” If that image paints the ultimate truth of the world to come, it seems like an inevitability. If irresistible forces move the world to that, what am I to do otherwise?

    I always assume that you know more than me, as you have studied more, both biblical and cultural and I could never hope to step toe-to-toe with you argumentatively. Your faith seems more mature, so I would get tossed around the Dojo like a Cobra Kai by Pat Morita.

  8. Drake:

    Good stuff. Thanks for the kind words and the probing questions.

    I don’t believe the options for gentiles in MJ add up to only “convert or leave.” I also believe there is a place for this who want to “stay and respect the covenantal place of Israel with God.” Those who can be clear about their identity, who can take on aspects of Torah without assuming a pseudo-Jewish identity, and who serve the divinely-given vision of Messianic Judaism to promote Messiah within Judaism have made a good choice (just as the much greater majority who serve in the multi-national Church and the divinely-given vision of Christianity to promote Messiah to the nations have made a good choice).

    Derek

  9. drake82dunaway says:

    Good input.

    I just don’t know if I ought or not. And I don’t think I will know for many years to come. I take a long time to think about such things. Think of the ents in LOTR debating Saruman.

    What does a calling look like? I mean I was baptized as a kid, as following G-d and seeking truth is sortof a no-brainer.

    Things have been different in recent time. A while back, I was illuminated by FFOZ and saw the Bible as a whole and warm text meant to surround my life in a million goodnesses. When FFOZ shifted it’s stance, while you were popping campaign, I would not come out of my office for days and felt wrenched and horrible. And at the end of it all I was effete. I was devastated, as I tend to take things very seriously. Who would not be elated to think that more of the bible applies to himself than he ever thought? And utterly destroyed to then think otherwise afterward? I sometimes have to assume most people don’t walk around thinking about such things, but eh.

    Years prior, I asked G-d to cement me in truth and help me and my gang of three find a home. And when FFOZ caved, I demanded to know of Him why I had been lead into disappointment. Why would my rock shatter and roll? Why would some want me to stay, and others for me to go? Why did you lead me to this place, G-d? To get laughed at into perpetuity?

    Then I heard the voice of the Master calmly ask in my mind “why did YOU go?” I realized then that “ought” or “not required” are moot points before “desire.” Plus, I can do whatever the heck I want when it comes to the brass tax, and I often forget that ;-) I have come to agree with you on regard for more traditional services, reverence for rabbinical tradition, and perhaps bilateral ecclesiology to an extent. And your writings on this matter (sometimes blunt force trauma with suggesting we go back to church. hehe) were actually a good companion to make me more secure in knowing it’s not simply about achieving more to please G-d (although I believe it does please Him) but being secure in one’s calling wherever it might lead. But that’s the opaque part.

    Since then, my faith has actually been strengthened, and much of that I owe to your blog, as hard as it was at times to read. Faith in G-d first, but also regarding where I am and where I am headed. I still don’t know.

    So I took an inventory of my life in miniature, that I have had SO MANY opportunities to be asked about my beliefs by both Jews and Gentiles alike. The other day my bro’s gf had a death in the family and asked some profound questions about death, to me first. Eyal (Israeli), my ex-coworker, used to call me “Jews for Jesus” and pester me ad nauseum, and now we have at least a mutual respect and I have reflected to him an aspect of Messiah to which I doubt he has been properly introduced. He stopped saying I worship “another god.” Now I’m getting these opportunities to work with you (which I am stoked and my art will reflect it), and my family is asking me about feasts and to lead them, and etc, etc. I had a friend I work with, Moshe, in the Maryland RNC, and he’s OJ, and we discuss Torah politely, and my talking to him makes him ponder this new Jewish Messiah. I know it does. All the teens like it when I teach their morning class on the biblical heroes and ask me to come back, others to teach them to draw. I’ve had half a dozen people come up and tell me I should do lesson plans. Years ago, my Pastor Dave L Davis of Hamilton Mill United Methodist (good man of highest caliber) asked me if I wanted to enter the cloth, which I thought was pretty funny since I never really counted myself in the smart-people’s club. But now, things are accelerating…hmmmm

    1. But what does such a calling look like? What emotions? Be specific. You’ve been there before I have, obviously. I always listened to guest speakers in church talk about how “G-d has shown me my calling,” and never knew what mine was perse beyond simply believing. I don’t know. It seems to be congealing…I’m not sure.

    2. Also, how does “joining a people” affect (if at all) one’s own nationalism/patriotism? Are they on the same level? What does this mean to you? Some say Zionism is simply a commitment to the blood and soil of Israel, while others (mainly Libertarians) dismiss it as bellicose nationalism. What does this mean in terms of your life or the stars and stripes? I am actually a political animal as you know, and so the questions do emerge. I don’t honestly like to mix the two, as it can get ugly (I could lecture YOU in this experience.) Thoughts?

  10. drake82dunaway says:

    Please forgive the misspellings. I write and never proof.

  11. drake82dunaway says:

    I am still attending Beth Adonai, and all that is in reference to that, btw.

  12. wendeth77 says:

    Derek,

    Thanks for the links. I’ve read through them, but choosing to reply here since I feel I can relate a bit to what drake has said above. I did not feel I was trying to “be Jewish” when I began studying the Hebrew Roots side of things. I was introduced to FFOZ a few years ago and truly felt a lot of the issues I had with “the church” were answered with a simple “poor theology” nod. Not to say all churches are bad, but I have believed for a long time the church got off track somewhere and reading the materials and looking at scripture through a new light definitely gave my faith a good shot of adrenaline and feeling of…truthfulness.

    Fast forward to my move to Ga where I was introduced to the MJ groups. I was drawn to the history, the tradition, the idea that some of what was being done “today” was perhaps how Yeshua and His followers may have practiced…..I didn’t know for sure, but I was interested. I enjoyed learning of the festivals and felt a connection with understanding what G-d had declared to His people….I started to feel a connection with G-d, a closer understanding of the most high. Perhaps I did not have a true understanding of what is it to be a Jew and was inadvertently disrespecting a way of life?

    Having lived outside of the U.S. I’ve learned to adapt, but also appreciate differences in cultures. I was not born S. Asian, but there are some great traditions I enjoy being part of, especially when I’m among people of S. Asian descent.

    I’m curious, after reading through this…..what would be the standard. I can see some of the outward showings are frowned upon (choice of dress, etc.), but on the other hand if the gentile is meant to live as Yeshua did are we not better spiritually for doing just that? Keeping Kosher, celebrating the holidays as a way of recognizing what G-d has done for His people, and even incorporating prayers which are so amazing and beautiful and have a deepness which can not be described is this truly bad?

    Perhaps I’m looking at it from a “custom” point of view. If I celebrate Christmas or Easter, am I not celebrating SOMEONE’S culture? I am not 100% of any ethnicity, so pretty much anything I do is going to be ripping off someone’s tradition-am I not better for adopting traditions which G-d set out for people?

    Or, am I slapping those very people in the face?

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