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)?