Not Jewish Yet Drawn to Torah, Part 4

I’ve had many emails asking me to resume this series. Sometimes I start something and fail to complete it. The series has been my thinking, as a rabbi with plenty of non-Jewish members in my synagogue, about the phenomenon of gentiles being drawn in these last three decades to Torah.

Prior to the 1980’s, there was little chance for a non-Jew to get involved with Torah living or to be part of a Jewish community. The only options were to join one of several Christian denominations that kept the Sabbath (such as Seventh Day Adventist or Worldwide Church of God) or to convert and join an Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist synagogue.

Then came Messianic Judaism, a struggling little movement growing out of the Jewish hippie response to Jesus in the 60’s and 70’s. These formative and not-yet-sure-what-they-were-about Messianic synagogues needed members. And plenty of non-Jews showed up eager to practice what they had been reading their whole lives in the Bible.

Messianic Judaism was careless. We allowed people to be confused about who they were. We made no distinction back then between Jewish and non-Jewish identities. Sure, in many cases gentiles were kept at arm’s length or treated as second class. People feared to be asked the question when they visited a Messianic synagogue, “Are you Jewish?”

What are we to make of the mess that has resulted?

Let me say a little more about the mess. The world now has hundreds of “Messianic” congregations with nary a Jew. And the identity confusion that has come about can be solved. But there are different ideas about how to solve it.

Throughout this series, I have urged us to uphold some values:

(1) That it matters to God that descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remain faithful to the covenant, maintain their identity as Jews, and pass that identity on to their children.

(2) That non-Jews should not assume a shallow or false identity as de facto Jews.

(3) That Messianic Judaism is primarily about a Jewish movement renewing Judaism in Yeshua.

(4) That Messianic Judaism is primarily a home for Jewish and intermarried families.

Now let me add two more that deserve their own blog posts:

(5) That some Christians can (not “must”) form Judaically informed congregations, Judeo-Christian is the term I prefer, and develop practices which incorporate Torah without assuming Jewish identity. This is what I think congregations that are not reaching Jewish or intermarried families should transform themselves into. And standards should be discussed for keeping holidays and practices in a way that does not assume a false Jewish identity.

(6) That non-Jews who are currently involved in Messianic Judaism can and should (if they choose) remain and understand the nature of Messianic Judaism more clearly. I am aware of (but can’t say too much about) leaders who are working on standards for keeping identities clear in Jewish practice. Messianic Judaism can be seen as pioneering the bringing together of non-Jews and Jews in communities practicing Judaism. The very idea of this disturbs purists and makes our movement vulnerable to criticism from the outside. So be it. There is Jewish precedent, in history and in the thought of some modern Jewish thinkers, for making a place for non-Jews to come into the sphere of Judaism.

So, as long as I don’t forget to finish the series this time (smile), there we have a worthy part 5 and part 6 to explore. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts about the possibilities, rewards, and or dangers of (5) and (6)?

About Derek Leman

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

25 Responses to Not Jewish Yet Drawn to Torah, Part 4

  1. “Messianic Judaism can be seen as pioneering the bringing together of non-Jews and Jews in communities practicing Judaism. The very idea of this disturbs purists and makes our movement vulnerable to criticism from the outside. So be it.”

    I have many questions… Why should Gentiles be encouraged to “practice Judaism”? To me, it’s not about some racial or ethnic purity, it’s about the Jewish nature of Jewish communities and raising Jewish children who will marry Jewish AND follow Yeshua as Messiah. If most Jews see the movement as already predominantly non-Jewish (so, it’s not really “pioneering” – it’s a current demographic reality), just imagine what it will be perceived as if it promotes “Judaism for everyone.”

    Why is it OK to make our movement even more “vulnerable to criticism” by diluting even further the already minuscule and aging Jewish ranks? Only Yeshua himself should be the stumbling block for our people. Besides, I think we already get plenty of criticism – and much of it is well deserved. Does anyone really think that Jews who seek to live Jewishly will be attracted to such a movement – has this worked already? I can tell you from personal experience that it has not.

    I recall Rabbi Stuart Dauermann words regarding preserving the focus of Messianic Jewish communities:

    “How do they [Gentile guests/members] help us function as the Messianic Jewish Remnant, a sign, demonstration, and catalyst of God’s consummating purposes for the descendants of Jacob? Gentiles who are not helping us get these jobs done serve as a hindrance to their accomplishment. This is especially so since it is only natural that they will invite other Gentile friends to likewise attend, and when that happens, our congregation is rapidly demographically overwhelmed.”

  2. Pingback: Messianic communities a save haven? « Faith(based) Works

  3. jrickardj says:

    Matthew 28:18-20 And Yeshua came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
    Yeshua told his disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations.

    • “Yeshua told his disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations.”

      And they have done just that. Very successfully (1.9 billion Christians according to some stats, We’ll leave sincerity of their faith to G-d). This was done without Judaizing Gentiles and funneling them into Jewish communities and synagogues. Perhaps that was G-d’s plan all along.

  4. jrickardj says:

    As I read some thoughts I wonder what Yeshua would say, and the Apostle Paul would say about this Gentile issue?

    • It’s hard to speak on something they didn’t have to deal with. A standard and historical answer one would probably expect to hear is that G-d has erased any differences between Jews and Gentiles and that all should be part of your local neighborhood church.

      However, I don’t think that would be the case. I would imagine that both Yeshua and Paul agree that Jews are to remain Jews within their own communities, not only because it’s G-d will that Jews be preserved for all eternity as a distinct nation, but more importantly so that Jewish followers of Yeshua can minister to and be part of their own Jewish people. The first Jewish disciples cared very much what the rest of the Jewish community thought of them and did everything in their power to counteract any misunderstanding or misinformation spread about them (as can be seen when Paul was asked to participate in Nazarite vows).

      It’s also of note that only Paul is called the Apostle to the Gentiles, while the rest of the apostles were to stay in and reach out to their own Jewish community.

      Both Yeshua and Paul would probably also say that Gentiles should glory in the fact that G-d has accepted them as Gentiles without requiring them to live according to Jewish obligations and customs (as living within a Jewish community invariably require to some degree). Overall, one gets from read Paul that he was very much against Judaizing of Gentiles/pushing them toward desiring to convert.

      I would also say that at least from what can be glean from Acts, it is good for Jews and Gentiles to come together for some form of fellowship (table or otherwise), even if they happen to be part of separate communities. We can see this with Peter. Gentiles should also support the Jewish poor (because they “owe” the Jewish people, according to Paul).

  5. Gene:

    You and I agree so substantially on many things. It may be that on MJ and gentiles you are more purist than I am.

    In part 6 I will make a case for some non-Jews being called into MJ. I think it is not right for MJ leaders to look at all the people who have come and say, “This could not have been God’s will.”

    The question to ask yourself: is keeping gentiles out of Judaism an absolute?

    I don’t think so. I just want people who are here for the wrong reasons to realize it, to develop a healthy identity, to respect biblical theology of Jewish identity, and to make Tikkun Olam.

    I will make the argument that the particularism of Judaism has cracks, biblically and traditionally. I will not be able to fill in as many details as I would like. I wish I had the time for more halachic research and so forth. But when I lay out my case, I will make the appropriate disclaimers, show the gaps in my knowledge, and hope others will build on it. In fact, you may wish to put your energy into researching some of the issues I will raise. You are well equipped.

    Derek “ready to get in a mess of trouble” Leman

    • “Derek “ready to get in a mess of trouble” Leman.”

      Worry not. I’ll wait for your “Part 6” to see where you are going with this. However, I propose to you that due to the current trend of Jews being a tiny minority within the MJ movement the business-as-usual MJ congregations will cease to be viable as Jewish spaces in a less than a generation. They simply just do not attract the committed Jews, and especially the younger “unchurched” generation of Jews who want to raise Jewish families. Those will end up within mainstream Judaism, for better or worse (it depends on how one looks at it) – as probably happened in the first few centuries.

  6. Interesting discussion on my Facebook profile also. If you ain’t a Facebook fried of mine, why not?

    Derek Leman

  7. Mike says:

    I am part of a small group that I suppose would be classified as MJ, for lack of a better term. First off, none of us are Jewish. Secondly, we meet on Saturdays, and have a small in-home service, complete with study of the Torah portion, and follow a Messianic Siddur. We observe the feasts, etc, etc, you get the idea.

    That being said, none of us look Jewish. I mean, I suspect some members wear fringes, but they do so discretely. Im not Jewish, Im Mike. And I like being Mike. So, the reason I dont “dress” Jewish, is because, in my mind, I dont want to be mistaken as Jewish. This is not because I have something against being Jewish (Quite the contrary), I just think its important to not be seen as trying to be something Im not.

    I have been reading comments on here and other blogs for quite some time, and I am trying to do what I feel drawn to, without stepping on the toes of those who have been here a lot longer than I.

    Derek, I thought I remember in a past post, where you lightly touched on an idea, where Gentiles would wear normally Jewish garb, like tallis, but perhaps colored, or made a bit differently so that there is a distinction between a Jewish tallit and a gentile one. LOL. I know, sounds ridiculous. Just putting it out there !

  8. Mike:

    I think a commenter made the specific suggestion you are referring to. I am part of a body of rabbis that discusses these matters (but things happen slowly and people want answers yesterday). I would gladly discuss with you privately some of the trajectories differentiation might take. I think you have my email, but if not, derek4messiah at gmail.

  9. So many folks are like Mike, above: gentile, but drawn by God to Torah.

    Messianic leadership would do well to start out with that premise when looking at the question of gentiles in the Messianic movement.

  10. cybrsage says:

    I am Jewish, my wife is Gentile. We attend a Messianic Synagogue. She wonders, what does she call herself? For me, that is easy, I am a Messianic Jew. She is not, though…

  11. elderlee says:

    What comes to my mind amid all these conversations is the example of the “mixed multitude” that came out of Egypt. These people who believed in the Blood of the Lamb back then, were all immersed in the Sea, became the nation that is called Israel. Just as today, the people who believed in the Blood (Yeshua) and left Egypt (spiritual idolatry), and are immersed become a “spiritual” son and daughter.
    Why the separation? Why the need to remain at “arms length” or to place a line of demarcation between those who are all “under the Blood”?
    We call ourselves Hebrews, those who have “crossed over” as did our father (non-Jew) Abraham. Jew is a misnomer, rather like Christian – coined by outsiders who misunderstood the true identify of the Lord’s people [SACRED NAME EDITED BY BLOG OWNER]. Shalom

  12. Elderlee:

    I’d like to challenge some of your assumptions. First, you assume that tribal affiliation did not matter at all in ancient Israel. Second, you assume that the non-Jews in the Exodus remained non-Jews. Third, you misunderstand the label Jew when applied to ancient Israel. It is a shorthand term meaning an Israelite, a member of one of the tribes. It doesn’t matter that the term Jew is post-exilic. Moderns using the term anachronistically can do so as a sort of verbal shorthand.

    By contrast, I assume that non-Jews in the Exodus faced three possibilities:

    (1) Assimilate into Israel (convert, essentially) as Caleb did (and he became part of Judah).

    (2) Remain as a sojourner among the Israelites and not marry in or convert.

    (3) Leave the camp of Israel and join another people or form a separate group.

    Derek

    • elderlee says:

      Thank you for the clarity – though I didn’t mean to sound as if tribal identity were not important, for it is as there are many promises and inheritance of land to be fulfilled for each individual tribe.
      Yet if assimilation is the only way a “gentile” can be accepted, how can this occur, if non-ethnic Jewish people are not being authentically invited to be adopted into the family of Israel?
      What about the Pauline teachings in Romans 2 of being an “inward Jew” or that of Romans 11 of being “grafted in” to the True Tree (Israel)?
      I also believe that the ways of Israel are the ways of the Lord [SACRED NAME EDITED BY BLOG OWNER], beginning with the Torah revealed to Moses.

  13. Elderlee:

    You decided to challenge me and I have been challenging you back. You have some evidences and rhetorical lines to use. All fine and good.

    But are you curious to know what I think? Or is this a pretext to simply trying to “win an argument”? And if it is to win an argument, do you understand where Messianic Judaism is coming from? Where I am coming from? Have you read much here at Messianic Jewish Musings?

    I’ll wait for your reply before continuing, because this back and forth commenting really can go on a long time. I answer your challenge question–you come up with another one–ad infinitum–no one changes their mind because the format is not conducive to learning.

    Meanwhile, I would ask that all commenters here on a Jewish blog respect the universal Jewish standard of not spelling out any form of the divine Name. I will edit the Name out of your comments and ask you to respect that standard in the future.

    Derek Leman

  14. elderlee says:

    Again, no attempt at disrespect, or disregard for Jewish standards. Also my purpose was not an attempt to “change your mind” but to gain understanding.
    I was seeking your thoughts, but needed to contextualize my questions based on my personal understanding and so gave that information.
    I now withdraw from this format so as not to create adversity or appear to be “challenging” or disrespectful of the MJ community.
    Shalom

  15. Elderlee:

    Thank you. I see now that you were not here merely to keep an argument going. I’ve had too many over the years who did not want to dialogue with the possibility of learning, but only to air their views through endless comebacks.

    The “inward Jew” teaching of Romans 2 does not make Jewish identity obsolete. Rather, Paul’s point is that true Jewishness is based on faith and faithfulness, not mere birth.Therefore, a Jewish person should not think, “I am right with God because of my lineage.”

    It does not mean that gentiles are Jews if they have faith in God on the inside.

    Rather, Paul is telling his fellow Jews that a gentile who obeys the commandments is more right with God than a Jew who does not.

    It is possible to take Paul’s words as making Jewish identity obsolete or even saying that gentiles in faith are de facto Jews. But this will not square with the rest of Paul’s teaching (take 3:1 for example) and misunderstands how rhetoric works. In rhetoric, a speaker will creatively redefine terms to make an argument, but this does not mean the usual definitions are now obsolete.

    Derek Leman

  16. Derek,

    I see this is as the most important “value” to inform this discussion:

    “That it matters to God that descendants of … Jacob remain faithful to the covenant, maintain their identity as Jews, and pass that identity on to their children.”

    A few weeks ago at a gathering of DC-area congregational leaders, this issue came up in public discussion. Several members of a congregation with no apparent Jewish members exclaimed their enthusiasm for Messianic life because it gave them an opportunity to build “One New Man.”

    I asked whether “One New Man” adherents believed in an ongoing cosmic purpose for the Jewish people as a distinct group. The only coherent response was: “well, of course the Jewish people still have a purpose! It’s to be a light to the nations!”

    There was something about that response that left me profoundly unsatisfied. Yes, of course, one of our divine “missions” is to reveal the G-d of Israel to non-Jewish people. But there is so much more that we’re here for.

    Who knows, maybe I’ll blog about what that purpose is. :)

    • “I asked whether “One New Man” adherents believed in an ongoing cosmic purpose for the Jewish people as a distinct group. The only coherent response was: “well, of course the Jewish people still have a purpose! It’s to be a light to the nations!””

      Monique, this is all very telling. Perhaps that’s why most of these groups don’t view preservation of Jewish identity and distinctions as important for THEM personally – they think that they already got as much as “light” as they needed from the Jews.

  17. rebyosh says:

    elderlee,

    Regarding your earlier comment about the “mixed multitude,” there is quite a bit of misinformation floating around out there. The most common is that “mixed multitude” means that all religious distinction is removed, and that non-Jews are just as obligated as Jews to observe the Torah since they were there at Sinai.

    The problems with this thinking are many, but let’s entertain a couple:

    1) Jewish covenental identity did not begin at Sinai. Rather, Sinai was a seal to the covenant G-d had already made with us. As such, those “mixed multitude” who were present came along for a ride yet remained distinct in many ways.

    2) The mixed multitude was a small number compared to the Israelites. Over time they were often absorbed in, but until their full assimilation into Israel, the Torah mentions a number of places where distinction was to be maintained between Israelites and ‘sojourners – gerim.’

    In the Torah, there is definitely recognition of non-Jews participating within the community life of Israel. Additionally, the Torah even recognizes various types of “sojourners” (gerim), and specifies certain requirements for levels of participation for each of these different types of non-Jews. So although non-Jews were included in many respects, there were also noted differences.

    For example, non-Jews may not have been allowed to offer certain sacrifices on the altar in the Mishkan. Another example is the laws of Kashrut. According to Deuteronomy 14:21:

    “You shall not eat anything that dies naturally, you may give it to the ger who is within your gates, that he may eat of it … ”

    We have always valued the participation of non-Jews. This has been true even to the point that there has also been an evolving understanding of how to fully include non-Jews, not only has fellow partakers (as gerim), but as full participants in the social and religious life of the Jewish people. As a result, we do get glimpses of the beginnings of some type of conversion in order to bring someone into full inclusion into the community, even in the Torah.

    The first glimpse of this is with with gerim and Passover. Gerim were not allowed to participate in the eating of the Passover lamb, unless they underwent circumcision (which in later times, would be one of the prerequisites for conversion). This is an example where a religious practice was forbidden for non-Jews, unless they chose to conform to a specific religious rite:

    “And when a ger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover of the L-rd, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it, and he shall be as native-born (Exodus 12:48).”

    In this way, the ger was brought into the peoplehood. Through circumcision one became “as native-born.” Although early in the Torah this was not a fully developed idea of conversion, there was indeed a process for inclusion even if not yet fully developed. Another example that may be relevant involves non-Jewish women captured in war who could be adopted forcibly as wives (see Deut. 21:10-14).

    In any case, the point is that there was still distinction beyond the point of the “mixed miltitude” verse you mention in Exodus. There were indeed ways for those sincere gerim to be fully absorbed, but it took time. Furthermore, the context for those gerim was sojourning AMONG Israel. This lifestyle was not necessary for non-Jews not sojourning among Israel.

  18. benicho says:

    I get a bit confused when I read all these comments in light of what I read in Isaiah 55. Why should a Gentile like myself who wants to follow Torah feel bound to Judaism? Is Judaism not another tradition of man? Albeit the traditions of Judaism I do agree with more than Christianity, I still feel, and have always felt that obeying God’s laws does not necessarily mean subjecting yourself to a religion (for lack of a better term). Isaiah 55: 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Is God referring to man’s tradition, or as we call them “religion”?

    Within a symphony of chaos orchestrated by human nature it’s no wonder the music faded.

  19. Benicho:

    Try following Torah without a tradition. Let me know how it goes.

    Derek Leman

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